MONTREAL -- A major telecommunications satellite project piloted by Telesat could, if it materializes, result in the creation of 600 jobs in Quebec's aerospace sector and investments of up to $1.8 billion.

The Legault government -- which has offered up to $450 million in financial support -- announced Thursday that agreements in principle had been signed with the Ontario company MDA and with Ottawa-based Telesat.

The announcement was made by Premier François Legault, Minister of the Economy Pierre Fitzgibbon, and the leaders of the two companies.

The project in question is called "Lightspeed" and provides for the deployment of 298 satellites in low orbit (LEO) -- 1,000 kilometers above Earth -- creating access to high-speed Internet in remote regions.

"With the pandemic, aircraft construction will obviously suffer for a while," Legault said. "It's therefore a perfect time to accelerate the development of satellites, a new, future component for the aerospace industry."

MDA has been selected to manufacture the active satellite antennas, which could lead to the hiring of 280 people in Montreal, where it already has 640 workers. The company is also trying to obtain the contract for the final assembly of the satellites on Quebec soil.

For its part, Telesat will set up its network operating center in the province, which will result in the creation of 320 jobs in Gatineau.

The annual salary for these positions is around $100,000, said the province.

There are still steps to be taken, since Telesat has not yet completed all the financial arrangements for its project. Last week, the company selected Thales Alenia as the main manufacturer in a contract valued at more than $3 billion.

Financial support from the Legault government is conditional on the conclusion of an agreement between Telesat and Ottawa. Quebec is offering repayable advances of $400 million to Telesat and $50 million to MDA.

"The vast aerospace expertise present in Quebec ... provides Telesat with convincing and indisputable arguments to deploy substantial investments in the province, notably the manufacture of Lightspeed satellites and the establishment of our important technical operations," said Daniel Goldberg, the chairman and CEO of Telesat.

Other companies also have big ambitions: Amazon is beginning a project involving 3,200 satellites in low orbit, while the entrepreneur Elon Musk, of SpaceX, envisages a network with several thousand units.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2021.